By Katherine Long | Editor
The Diocesan Pastoral Council met Sept. 14 at Bishop Grimes Jr./Sr. High School in East Syracuse. The day’s agenda included remarks from newly installed Bishop Douglas J. Lucia, a discussion on ministry and outreach to young adults, and an overview of the Child Victims Act.
The session opened with introductory remarks from Bishop Lucia, who had just returned the night before from a training for new bishops in Rome, Italy.
“I wish, in one way, you could have been with me at ‘new bishops school’ because we actually talked about diocesan pastoral councils,” he told the representatives.
The theme of the bishops’ gathering — which brought together about 130 bishops ordained or appointed within the last year — was synodality and “our accompanying [of] one another on our journey of faith.”
In his meeting with the new bishops, Pope Francis talked about “our need for closeness to God” and, in turn, “our responsibility to bring God’s closeness to the people,” the bishop said, noting that Pope Francis told them that happens “through listening and also just getting our hands dirty.”
“He was very much adamant that he doesn’t want his bishops being little princes, that he wants his bishops out there as a pastor, to get dirty with the sheep,” Bishop Lucia added.
He said being with and forming friendships with his brother bishops — who came from Iraq, Northern Ireland, and many points in between — was a powerful witness and “a very powerful experience of Church.”
It was a blessing to see the Church come together in prayer and together at table, Bishop Lucia said, especially when language barriers could present an issue. “But we didn’t make it an issue. We just tried to be understood. And the way we tried to be understood was by listening and being open.
“For me, that’s what this is all about,” he said to the representatives. “For us to really be open, to listen to one another, and together we’ll build God’s kingdom.”
DPC members watched a video of Los Angeles Auxiliary Bishop Robert E. Barron’s presentation at the U.S. bishops’ assembly in June. Bishop Barron is the chairman of the bishops’ Committee on Evangelization and Catechesis. His presentation addressed the religiously unaffiliated, also known as “nones.”
A June 13 Catholic News Service report summarizes his presentation:
In a June 11 presentation, the bishop said a group of experts who’ve examined why young people are leaving the faith in increasing numbers recently spoke with his committee about this and will share their findings during a lunch presentation at the bishops’ fall assembly in Baltimore.
“How many are leaving? The short answer is: a lot,” the bishop said, noting the sobering statistic he said many in the room probably were aware of — that 50% of Catholics 30 years old and younger have left the church.
“Half the kids that we baptized and confirmed in the last 30 years are now ex-Catholics or unaffiliated,” he said, and “one out of six millennials in the U.S. is now a former Catholic.”
Another statistic that particularly affects him is this: “For every one person joining our church today, 6.45 are leaving” and most are leaving at young ages, primarily before age 23. The median age of those who leave is 13.
“Where are they going?” he asked, and in response to his own question, he again gave a short answer: They’re “becoming nones” although some, in much smaller percentages, join other mainstream religions or evangelical churches.
Bishop Barron said church leaders don’t need to speculate about why people are leaving because there are plenty of studies and surveys that answer this. The No. 1 reason, he said, is that they simply no longer believe the church’s teachings, primarily its doctrinal beliefs.
In his opinion, he said, this is “a bitter fruit of the dumbing-down of our faith” as it has been presented in catechesis and apologetics.
Other reasons he said young people are leaving have to do with relativism, science, and the church’s teachings on sexuality.
The bishop’s hope, in this environment, is that the young, religiously unaffiliated can still be reached because as he put it, most have drifted away versus storming away from the faith. “We’re not up against a fierce opponent at every turn,” he said, adding: “Most are ambivalent to religion rather than hostile to it.”
He cited campus missionary groups and digital platforms as avenues of opportunity.
After watching the video, DPC members were given an opportunity to discuss and share what surprised them about Bishop Barron’s presentation, how that might influence the direction the pastoral council takes, and ideas for addressing the issue in their parishes and pastoral care areas.
Members then heard from Bob Walters, diocesan Director of the Office of Youth and Young Adult Ministry.
Walters acknowledged the statistics presented by Bishop Barron were “somewhat bleak” and noted that no one has figured out a “silver bullet” to reverse the trends.
“Programs are not the silver bullet,” he said; rather, accompaniment is the answer. “It’s people — people evangelizing, discipling other people.”
In this diocese and others, the “common language is ‘we provide something consistent during this time of transition,’” Walters said.
Today’s young adults will move many times before they settle down for family and/or career commitments, Walters noted, so a goal of getting young people to register at a parish is unrealistic.
Instead, “we just need to provide something consistent as they come in and out of this diocese…. And if we continue to build community and help them grow in their faith — wherever they land, we’ve built that bridge for them,” he said.
“We have to accompany them to where they need to go: a deep personal relationship with Jesus and the Church,” he added.
Walters encouraged collaboration between parishes and within pastoral care areas on young adult outreach efforts and highlighted young adult opportunities presented by the diocese, including monthly Theology on Tap gatherings and First Friday celebrations. Heritage grants, administered through the Youth and Young Adult Ministry office, provide funds for parish-level young adult evangelization efforts. (Visit the Young Adult Ministry page at syrdio.org to find details on upcoming events and the grant application process.)
Walters also cited effective youth ministry as an answer to preventing young adult attrition in the first place and encouraged parishes and pastoral care areas to consider hiring a staff youth minister.
Child Victims Act
Chancellor Danielle Cummings offered a brief overview of the Child Victims Act and lawsuits that have been brought against the diocese under the legislation.
The CVA was signed into New York State law in February, extending the statute of limitations for individuals to bring claims of child sexual abuse: victims in civil cases now have until age 55 and victims in criminal cases now have until age 28. The CVA also created a one-year “look-back” window during which claims of child sexual abuse could be filed in cases beyond the statute of limitations; the window opened Aug. 14.
“This is a good thing,” Cummings said of the legislation. “This is good. Out of darkness comes light.”
Acknowledging that “these are tough days,” Cummings said the diocese had been named in 23 suits since the look-back window opened. The claims may also name parishes, schools, and individuals, she noted.
Cummings said the Diocese of Syracuse is “not at a point where we want to pursue” reorganization under Chapter 11; the neighboring Diocese of Rochester announced its filing Sept. 12.
Cummings closed by sharing video from a Sept. 5 press conference in Syracuse organized by clergy sexual abuse victim-survivors Daniel Paden and Matthew FitzGibbons. During the conference, both men shared their personal stories and emphasized forgiveness as a key part of their healing journeys.
The meeting ended with a question-and-answer session with Bishop Lucia. The DPC’s next meeting will be held Dec. 7.